Sunday, December 28, 2003

I'm back in SoCal and trying to relax before getting back to work, getting back to the gym, getting back to normalcy. I'm far from it right now--I'm watching the Ravens' quarterback punt and the Steelers' punt throw. I was at a very bizarre party on Friday night where I saw some old high school friends and got kinda drunk (and other things). Bill and DEK may have more details on my strange behavior, things I've forgotten or don't want to post here for posterity.

One nice thing I learned yesterday and last Satursunday is that even a relatively small change in personal circumference can make airline travel much more pleasant. So I got that going for me.

If anyone can explain the New Orleans Saints and/or the Minnesota Vikings, I'd be really interested to hear about it.

Finally, while I'm already contemplating ironically attending a Long Beach Sun game, this article at ESPN has some really interesting things to say about Dennis Rodman the basketball player, not the cartoon character. It reminds me how much we as sports fans pretend that only the actual games matter, but in our culture it's often the other way around. The amount of publicity Joe Horn recently got for his four touchdown catches in one game--as opposed to how he celebrated one of them--is a prime recent example.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

For the second straight Christmas the fam spent a good bit of the day watching VH1 Classic Christmas videos. Hall and Oates are still donning their gay apparel, Bing and Bowie are still awkward, and there were also some new strange additions--mostly Leon Redbone of Frosty the Snowman. Like Eric Cartman, the Wright family understands that the true meaning of Christmas can be summed up in one word: ham. OK, ham and potato salad. Oh, and mom's marshmallow/date roll. And pies. And other pies.

And a lot of groaning over full stomachs.

I hope you all managed to successfully avoid roving bands of revelers demanding figgy pudding, and that you're having a Merry Christmas, a Chappy Chanukkah, and a Festivus for the Rest of us.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

From now on when I see an advertisement on a city bus--or, still, a horrible horrible knee injury--I'll think of Napoleon McCallum.

Also, I know it's just a rookie, but judging by last night's performance on ESPN Radio's Gamenight, "I want to kiss you" has the potential to be one of the greatest sports talk radios drops of all time--if not one of the great radio drops of all time period.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Taking a red-eye from the West to the East coast creates this weird effect of giving you--depending on whether you are a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty type--a very short day or a very long day. I could say that I had a very short day yesterday, since it really only consisted of 21 hours. Or I could say I had this mega-day that I'll call "Satursunday". Here's a chronicle:

  • 7:15 a.m. PST: Get up and go to work. Work until 3. That's the problem with being hourly--you'd better make up some hours if you're going to take a week and a half off. Pick up some library books for the trip.
  • 4 p.m. PST: Get home, pack, relax a bit, watch the schizo Vikings and the incomprehensible Patriots.
  • 8:30 PST: Head to the airport, spend a lot of time but not as much as expected in line for checkin and security, find that nothing but McDonalds is open, read.
  • 11:45 p.m. PST: Take off for Chicago. Packed plane, window seat. I may have gotten an hour and a half of sleep on a 3.5ish hour flight.
  • 5:30 a.m. CST: Land at O'Hare, seek out Starbucks gingerbread latte and lemon poppyseed muffin. (For those keeping track, I've now had a McD's #1 with a shake, the latte, and the muffin--for over $14 in airport money worth of sustenance--
    Yeesh!) Discover that the gate is--of course--in a different concourse as required by law when stopping over at O'Hare. Hurry to C10 for next departure.
  • 6:25 CST: Departure for Pittsburgh called. Seating areas one and two loaded. Inexplicable ten-minute delay in which the word "mechanic" is overheard from the desk. Uh-oh. Just as inexplicably, the delay lets up and we continue the planing process. (If you can "deplane", you can certainly "plane", right?) Another packed plane, this time with the dreaded middle seat between strangers. Luckily, though, even a relatively small change in personal circumference has made this much much more tolerable than it used to be. No more sleep beyond a brief nod and wink is noted.
  • 9:15 EST: Land in Pittsburgh. Get picked up. Luggage arrived safely . See ugliest transvestite ever at baggage claim--at least I hope, for his/her sake. (Bill can vouch.) Get to the doors at the parking lot and get hit by the first wall of cold air in the face. I shudder, but compose my self. Bill tells me I've gone soft, and let me tell you, I'm fine with that. Head to Pamela's in Oakland for the first of two Pittsburgh signature culinary treats: the Pamela's crepe-style pancake.
  • noon EST: Leave Pamela's, go CD shopping, head back to DEK's to prepare for Heinz Field departure.
  • 1:45 EST: Heinz Field departure. Traffic and parking easier than expected, so we have a lot of time to kill before the game. Kill that time. Watch the game. Seats are high but near the 50. And free, so good times.
  • 5:20 EST: Halftime. Head down a hundred Heinz Field ramps (or so it seemed) to choose between the more specialty food--Primanti's sammich (which is Pittsburgh for "sandwich") or Quaker Steak and Lube wings. Choose the wings. Spend 3rd quarter in line. Spend first five minutes of fourth quarter walking back up the ramps, because the escalators have reversed. Eat lots of wings.
  • 7:10 EST: Good guys win. Yay! Let's get in out of the cold! After more surprising traffic ease, drop off DEK, stop at Wal-Mart to say hi to mom (she's on 8-8 overnights Saturday-Tuesday), and head home. Referee some good old-fashioned Adam-Dad bickering. Watch the late game.
  • 11:30 EST: Fall fast asleep on the couch.
  • 3:45 EST: Wake up, spend three seconds wondering where the hell I am, remember, walk upstairs to bed to collapse, exhausted and glad to be home (but equally glad to be leaving again in a week).

Saturday, December 20, 2003

OK, I know there's some law where the federal government isn't supposed to kill people after all the old-time CIA assassinations and whatnot, but would anybody be against the delicious irony that would be a government program designed to kill Matthew Lesko?

First off, I knew I could count on the wonderful readers to fill in my musical knowledge gaps--thanks everyone! I am a bit disturbed at the Lavigne/Phair thing--especially because I've been planning on picking up that album. Actually, both of those albums now that I think about it.

I'm doing the prodigal thing this upcoming week--Deeper Shade of Seoul may even have a few entries live from Beallsville. I'll be on a red-eye tomorrow night, then heading for Sunday's Steeler-Charger game, hanging out at home and in Pittsburgh for the week, and coming back to L.A. next Saturday.

I haven't talked books much lately for, well, for no particular reason. I just haven't done it. At some point I'll have to put up at least a few token comments about #s 44-46 on the Western lit list, if only because I'm trying to keep track of those things for my own future reference. Number 47, however, was a big one.

This week I finally finished the #1 entry on the Chronicle list, Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose. I've read two previous Stegner books--one history and one novel. Stegner wrote a lot of both, and they are intertwined with the same themes: the making of the U.S. West, writing history, the men whose dreams of the West outstripped reality, and the women who followed them loyally. Angle of Repose is no different.

Angle is the story of historian Lyman Ward, writing in the present (as of 1971) about his grandparents. Ward himself is retired and wheelchair-bound and writing this story largely to keep himself busy and prove his continued competence to his son and perhaps to himself. Ward is tormented by Berkeley--his sociologist son as well as his unlikely undergraduate research assistant and verbal sparring partner.

Mostly, however, we follow the grandparents--Oliver and Susan Burling Ward--through years of trials and tribulations, and specifically through Susan's extensive correspondence. Susan was the epitome of a proper Victorian lady, dropped into unlikely circumstances when she falls for a young mining engineer. She holds out hope that he will eventually get a job back in the civilized east, but of course we know from the start that that will never happen. One of Ward's--and Stegner's--main points is to show how the West was built not just by hard-scrabble pioneers, but by corporations, labor, speculators, immigrants, and even some unlikely Victorian civilizers.

The Wards' ongoing Western struggles were familiar territory for me after having read Stegner's much early book Big Rock Candy Mountain. As a pure novel, I probably preferred Big Rock. For anyone with a real historical interest, however, Angle of Repose has a lot of interesting things to say about how history is and should be written. It also contains some interesting critique of '60s radicalism from someone who is basically sympathetic to left-wing causes, but unwilling to shrug off the structures and restraints of civilization.

In short, Stegner writes big, worthwhile books that are time-consuming but very rewarding, especially if you're interested in any of the issues and questions mentioned here.

Three books to go to reach my goal of 50, and then I might be looking for some new ideas...

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

So I know what you've all been thinking: "Joe, as interested as we all are in your thinly disguised bitterness over the way this football season has turned out and in your bizarre obsession with the independent contractors working overnight in your neighborhood, what we really want to know is what music you've been listening to lately." I'm glad you asked! Or, rather, that in my own mind you did.

I've basically been listening to two types of music lately: whatever happens to be playing at the gym, and whatever random stuff the public library has on CD.

The gym plays plenty of classic rock and '80s and '90s songs, but it also plays a lot of current stuff. The current stuff has one thing in common: I have no idea what it's called or who it's by. Basically, here is how I know some of the most popular songs in the mix:

  • The one where you can't get a dollar out of the dude that I assume is 50 Cent because he's a p-i-m-p
  • The one that I really enjoy about the girl who listens to rap metal and stuff and is thus the girl all the bad guys want
  • The one where the chick says mentions that her ethnicity's been whitewashed
  • The one that, for about 10 seconds, I always think is "Faith"
  • The one where there's a lot of terrorists here in the USA: the CIA, the Bloods, the Crips and the KKK
  • The one where the guy's a-dic, he's addicted to you
  • The one I assume is by Avril Lavigne where she can't breathe and it's inevitable that...well, something's inevitable
  • The one where the dude apologizes to his dad for not being perfect
  • The one where the chick says "baby boy" about 100 times
  • The one where there's got to be more to life than chasing 'round every temporary high

Then there's the library music, or what I like to call my way of ignoring my office mate by putting on headphones. The library's collection is quirky--lots of jazz and blues; a rock section that combines the has-been, the never was, the who dat?, and the occasional gem; an extremely eclectic "popular" section with a lot of country and other pop genres; and classical and world sections that I of course steer well clear of. At any given time I'm likely to have out a pile of discs like: Rubber Soul, Sidney Bechet, something called "White Country Blues: 1928-36", Ornette Coleman, Lefty Frizzell, Tori Amos, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and just about anything from the Bob Dylan ouevre.

There's only one thing I'm trying to figure out about the LAPL's music ordering system: who exactly thought that what the listening public really wanted were three different Mott the Hoople albums, none of them containing "All the Young Dudes"?

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Mike has a great post up about the history of the college football national championship. The history seems to me to be dead on, but I disagree with the final analysis for two basic reasons.
1. Mike mentions that every NCAA sport determines its champion in a way of its choosing. That's true. And every one of them except 1-A football does it on the field (or court, or ice, or what have you). Every pro league has knockout playoffs. Every high school league I've ever heard of has playoffs. It's not as if playoffs are some outlandish concept--in fact playoffs aren't just the norm, they're the way of determining a championship team. I know there are historical or traditional reasons, but I have never heard one competitive or intrinsic reason why major college football should be different. If you're going to argue against playoffs, tell me why this case should be the exception--not just why it is or why it has been.
2. Mike's argument makes a change in terms that a lot of people try to make but that never works--"best team" vs. "champion". USC may have been the best team in 2002, but I'm fine with the fact that they weren't the champion because they had two losses, and everyone understands that you can't have two losses and be the champion. Crowning a champion does not have to be about deciding who in the abstract is the best team. (In fact, for quiz-bowl types, I'd suggest that this confusion has fueled obsessive searching for "perfect" formats over convenient and fun formats. Yes, I'm looking at you NAQT. Among others.) Competition always includes elements of luck, momentum, and other factors outside of pure skill or proficiency. We crown champions--and do it using playoffs--not in order to crown the best team but because it's fun, because competition suits itself to building to a final showdown, and because not doing so is anti-climactic.

To play a four-month-long season and not crown a champion feels hollow. NC State in 1983 and Villanova in 1985 were not the best teams, but their championships (and the champion-crowning process) are not sullied for it, and no one would claim that the 1982-83 and 1984-85 college basketball seasons were anti-climactic. That is not true of the 2003 college football season.

Maybe the NCAA and the networks' main concern is $$$, but that's not why so many college football fans want playoffs. Sports provide their fans many things, and one of the things a sports season provides fans is an epic narrative. College football is especially good for this, but not having playoffs makes a lot of us feel as if the last chapter has been torn out.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

(Warning: contains even more gratuitous swearing than usual.)

So I had my wallet stolen out of my locker at the gym yesterday. I came back to my locker, and after opening my combination lock, the combo part fell right off of the hook part. I thought that was pretty strange, that my cheap-ass lock had come apart after only about two months of use, but I didn't think too much of it. I put my stuff in my pockets and then realized: wait a minute, my wallet's not in my pocket and it's not in my locker. Fuck! Upon further inspection, it was clear that the lock had been tampered with, and the locker itself showed signs of foul play as well.

So I filled out an incident report, came home, cancelled all my cards, and then I called the LAPD. I know I'm never going to get anything back, but I figured in case of any identity theft issues, I should at least have a report on record. After navigating a labyrinthine touch-tone system (and having "You have selected 'regicide': if you know the name of the king or queen being murdered, press one" flashbacks) I talked to a cop at the downtown station who told me I'd have to come in to file a report.

Since I was headed to work, he said the downtown station would be best, and then explained to me where it is. He said 250 East 6th, and also said 6th and Wall. Not being familiar with Wall, I asked where it was in relation to Grand, where I work. He said two blocks east. I was skeptical, but I went along with it.

Checking out the map above, you'll see where the station is by the red star. Grand is the diagonal avenue that runs through where the "t" is in "W 6th St". Not, by any definition, two blocks. Now, referring again to the map, look at 5th Street between Broadway and San Pedro. This would be the heart of world-famous Skid Row.

What I'm trying to figure out here is, why exactly does the LAPD encourage victims of property crimes to stroll through an area designed to perpetuate additional property crimes?

But anyway, I filled out the stupid report, walked the dozen blocks back to work, and just generally started trying to pick up the pieces of what I'd lost.

Two things really bug me, though:
1. I just know that three days from now, or a week from now, I'll figure out something that was in there that I've forgotten about and I'll just scream, "Motherfucker" wherever I happen to be. Hopefully this will happen on the bus and no one will think anything of it, but that's an entry for another day.
2. I'm actually grateful toward the asshole for not also taking my car keys (and, by extension, my car).

I'm glad I know better, but this is the type of thing that make people go Republican...

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Bumbles still bounce. Life is good.

Monday, December 08, 2003

So you're just having one of those mornings where the alarm rings too early even though you've been sleeping uneasily for the previous hour anyway and everything's moving just a little bit slow and you're feeling kinda bad because something bad happened to one of your football teams and something good happened to your other team but it's too little too late and most of all you're just trying to figure out how you spent yet another weekend watching so much goddamn football.

And the last thing you want to do is get up and go to work.

And you drive over to the gym while it's still dark out and you don't even get your daily comic relief in the form of the ladies who are making your memetracker so freakin' bizarre and when you get there and start your workout you continue to wonder at how it's possible that no matter what you do you still can't bench press hardly anything even as you are coming along everywhere else and you make it through your bike routine but it's a particular drag for whatever reason or no reason or because it's Monday and even the incredibly hot blonde on the Stairmaster doesn't make you feel any better because you know deep down or not even all that deep down that you wouldn't even have the self-confidence to ask out her ugly cousin Ethel.

And then you finish up and go down to the parking garage and the attendant isn't in the booth because for some reason they give the garage attendant quasi-janitorial duties as well that always seem to take him away from the booth exactly when you'r trying to pay so you can get out of there so you can get home and get to work and get on with your day and whatnot and he just isn't showing up so you take the elevator down to your car and drive up to the booth and honk and finally they deign to show up and allow you the privilege of leaving.

And then you emerge from the underground parking garage.

And the sky is pure blue and the sun's shining off the hills.

And you know you've seen days as beautiful but you're equally sure you've never seen one more beautiful.

And somehow, some way, in three seconds flat you've gone from being in a really sour mood to feeling wonderful about life, the universe, and everything.

And that's when you remember why you moved back to Los Angeles.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

For the college presidents and NCAA officials who seem to be the last muthafuckas to figure this shit out, I have just one word. (Thanks, Mike.)

Saturday, December 06, 2003

By request:

For two years at Pitt, I was the copy editor for The Pitt News. One November, I was friends with the opinions editor and found out that some ROTC guy was writing some fluff piece editorial for Veteran's Day, which was on a Thursday. So I asked if I could whip something up for the Wednesday edition. I was a bit angry and overblown, but basically I wrote something that gave my standard spiel about how we always talk about national defense in this country, but by and large our military plays offense. I may have even referred to Veteran's Day as the holiday where we celebrate people who were sent abroad to shoot foreigners and lived (while we have a separate holiday in May for those who were killed in the process). OK, maybe that was a bit over the top, and I probably wouldn't write or publish the same thing in the same words today. Especially with John Ashcroft running around and all. But seriously, I wouldn't be quite as flippant about this today.

Anyway, apparently some of Pitt's College Republicans faxed this article to Jim Quinn, who had metamorphosed from half of a funny morning team duo on the biggest pop station in Pittsburgh into a solo morning guy on the classic rock station doing a schtick best described as a heavy dose of Limbaugh with a dash of Art Bell. In other words, conservative blowhard with a dash of conspiracy theorist blowhard. I have theories about this--in the '70s both Quinn and Limbaugh worked for the same rock station in Pittsburgh as young DJs, and I think Quinn was probably some combination of jealous, bitter, and opportunuistic about Limbaugh's success and sought to emulate it.

Anyway, apparently this article was a popular local dittohead topic on the Quinn show for about three days, and he started the ball rolling by calling the article's author (yours truly) as "an asshole". I wouldn't have ever found this out, except some guys at work told my dad about it, and he asked me if it was my article--not that he was curious enough to read the thing or anything (which was probably for the best).

Oh, and in case it was unclear, 10 days ago was the blog's birthday, not mine...

Friday, December 05, 2003

I had to take my car to the nearest Pep Boys to get two new tires, and it happened that the nearest location is on Hollywood Boulevard a few blocks east of Vine. It's odd to have to wander over Benny Goodman's star to get new tires, but such is life here occasionally.

While I waited, I wandered across the street to Al-Wazir Chicken and had some lamb shish kabob. I've had Mediterranean food a couple of times recently, and I've noticed a big change in my tastes. I'm losing my taste for pita bread and hummus, while grape leaves, gyros and all things lamb are ascendant.

After my car was re-tired, I ended up going through the Hollywood and Vine intersection on my way home. Here's what you can see driving through that intersection: a convenience store that specializes in Mad Dog-caliber wine, a bar/restaurant that looks to be faux upscale, an empty storefront, a body piercing parlor, the hookers from my neighborhood pulling an earlier shift, and confused tourists expecting something a bit more glamorous. Turning south on Vine, I was between Sunset and Santa Monica when I saw just about the most un-Hollywood thing imaginable: a Big Lots.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Sometimes you just can't improve on something, so instead of paraphrasing and whatnot, I'll just present whole this email I received from DEK:

"Okay, Steelers are sucking wind.
Panthers are utterly disappointing.
Penguins are about to roll over and play dead for the year.
Pirates are... well, the Pirates.

You know what this means for you:


Monday, December 01, 2003

Before the evening unpleasantness, I did have an enjoyable Saturday afternoon at the movies, tripling my total of trips to the theater since moving from 1 to 3. The Cooler was, well, pretty damn cool. It combined two themes I really like--the schlub gets the hot chick, and old Vegas vs. new Vegas. Why is it, by the way, that in that story we're always romanticizing Mob Vegas over Corporate Vegas? I'm not disagreeing, I'm just asking. I also saw Intolerable Cruelty. I make no claims for this as a great movie, but it was tremendously enjoyable. Even when the Coen Brothers are off their game (OK, a quick glance at their filmography tells me that hasn't ever happened before, but go with me here), they have some great set pieces and memorable supporting characters you won't soon forget. Also, Julia Duffy reminded me of her existence for the first time since "Newhart" by appearing as Catherine Zeta-Jones' best friend. Zeta-Jones and George Clooney do not have great chemistry, but they're good enough, and I always enjoy Clooney when he's in a role that you're not supposed to take too seriously.

Of course, you should keep these two things in mind if you take any of the above as a recommendation:

1. Since I haven't seen any movies lately, I might have just been so happy to be there that I would have loved most anything.
2. I watched Justin Timberlake host Saturday Night Live on, well, that night, and I really liked that too. So, um, see #1.